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Kim Namseok, Munhwa Ilbo Correspondent
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This article originally appeared in the Korean daily newspaper Munhwa Ilbo on January 2, 2023. It was translated from Korean by Raymond Ha.

In an exclusive interview for the Munhwa Ilbo, Stanford University professors Gi-Wook Shin and Francis Fukuyama had a conversation on a wide range of topics including the war in Ukraine, U.S.-China competition, and North Korea policy.

The world faces a crisis of political leadership as each country pursues its own interests. Fukuyama stressed the importance of robust international institutions, instead of relying solely on great leaders. He pointed to NATO and the U.S.-Korea alliance as examples of institutions that uphold the liberal international order. In terms of the U.S.-China competition, he said without hesitation that “a democracy like Korea…has to make the decision that it is going to be on the side of democracy.” Fukuyama also noted that in the event of an armed confrontation over Taiwan, Korea would almost certainly be pulled in, given the significant U.S. military presence there. He was skeptical about prospects for progress over North Korea, pointing to the long history of failed negotiations and the lack of viable alternatives. “Not every problem has a solution,” he said.

Gi-Wook Shin, who led the interview, observed that the global decline of democracy appears to have hit a turning point, “although it’s too early to say if there will be a rapid recovery…or a more gradual shift.” As for the state of democracy in the United States, he said, “We will have to wait and see what happens in the 2024 presidential election.” Even though Trump’s political influence may be weaker, he observed, “pro-Trump forces are still part of the system.” In terms of Korea’s foreign policy, Shin emphasized that Seoul “should take [the Taiwan] problem much more seriously.” A crisis in the Taiwan Strait “could become the biggest challenge for the Yoon administration’s foreign policy, not North Korea,” and domestic polarization over China policy is one issue that could threaten to “become extremely controversial.”

The interview was held in-person for one hour at Stanford on December 8, 2022, with a follow-up interview held over the phone on December 27.  


[Gi-Wook Shin] Let’s start by looking back on 2022. How would you summarize this year?

[Francis Fukuyama] I think 2022 was a very good year, where we may have bottomed out in this global move away from democracy and toward authoritarian government. The year really started out in February with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which looked very, very threatening. China was on a roll. It looked like they were beating everybody in terms of COVID policy. Then, by the end of the year, the Russians got completely bogged down. China experienced mass protests, and there were protests also in Iran. In America’s elections on November 8, all the pro-Trump forces failed to make gains and, in fact, lost almost everywhere. I think that maybe we will look back on 2022 as the year when this democratic recession that has been going on for over 15 years finally bottomed out.

[GWS] I agree, although it’s too early to say if there will be a rapid recovery toward democracy or a more gradual shift. In the United States, we will have to wait and see what happens in the 2024 presidential election. Former President Trump may be weaker politically, but pro-Trump forces are still part of the system. As for the Ukraine war, many people thought Russia would win quite easily, but now it looks like they are struggling. It’s a big question, of course, but how do you think the war will be remembered in history?

[FF] I think that it is going to be remembered as one of the biggest strategic mistakes made by a great-power leader in a very long time. I think that the mistake is directly due to the nature of the political system. You remember that Vladimir Putin was sitting at the end of this 25-foot table with his defense minister because he was so afraid of COVID. He was extremely isolated during the whole pandemic, and he had already isolated himself in a political system where he doesn’t face checks and balances. That kind of decision-making system makes you prone to make even bigger mistakes, because you don’t have other people to test your ideas against. He was completely uninformed about the degree to which Ukraine had developed a separate national identity and that the Ukrainian people were willing to fight for it. He didn’t have any idea how incompetent his own army was. If he had been in a more democratic country that required him to share power with other people, I don’t think he could have made that kind of mistake.

 

The most important thing is the breakdown of the Chinese economic model. For the past decade, the Chinese model has been to pump a huge amount of money into the real estate sector. That model is collapsing. The other big problem is that they don’t have economic growth anymore.
Francis Fukuyama

[GWS] Putin is struggling, as you said. There are a lot of problems in China, but Xi Jinping secured a third term. Authoritarian leaders elsewhere still hold power. By contrast, I don’t think President Biden has shown powerful leadership at home or globally. I don’t see any strong political leaders in the U.K., France, or Germany either.

[FF] I think that although Xi Jinping may succeed in stabilizing the situation in China with the protests over COVID in the short run, he is in a lot of trouble. He was creating all this social instability with the zero-COVID policy. Now that they’ve started to relax it, I think the number of cases and deaths is going to go up very dramatically, but I don’t think they’ve got much of a choice. I think this has probably damaged the people’s sense of Xi’s authority and legitimacy, and I’m not sure he can recover from that.

The most important thing is the breakdown of the Chinese economic model. For the past decade, the Chinese model has been to pump a huge amount of money into the real estate sector. That model is collapsing. The other big problem is that they don’t have economic growth anymore. Some economists think that they’re actually in a recession, with negative growth. This is like what Japan went through in the 1990s. So much of the Chinese government’s legitimacy has been based on having extremely high growth rates, and that period is over. I don’t see how they get it back, and they certainly won’t by inserting the state into every economic decision and controlling their high-tech sector. Their population is shrinking now. I’m not sure that Xi Jinping, in the longer run, is actually going to look like a very effective leader.

[GWS] But in the short term, say the next three to five years, won’t authoritarian leaders be powerful in comparison? Just as “America First” shows, some say there is a crisis of political leadership among Western democracies, including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany.

[FF] I think that apart from President Zelenskyy in Ukraine, we don’t see any really inspiring leaders in Germany or France or the United States. On the other hand, the nice thing about democracy is that it’s an institutional system for managing change. Biden has turned 80, and Trump himself is in his upper 70s. The leadership in Congress and the Democratic Party are all elderly, but they’re all about to change. In the next election cycle, there is going to be a whole new generation of people that are up-and-coming. I don’t think you need a charismatic leader with great vision, necessarily, to run any of the countries you mentioned.

[GWS] Another question is if the United States can provide global leadership. When Trump was defeated, there was a strong expectation for the Biden administration to restore global order and to do much better than its predecessor. I’m not sure whether that’s happening.

[FF] Again, I think that’s why you want to have international institutions rather than being dependent simply on leaders. This gives an institutional basis for continuity in policy. There are all of these alliance structures, like NATO. People thought that NATO was obsolete and was going to go away. It has actually proved to be very durable. The United States has security ties with Korea and Japan that also are quite old, but they’re still durable. It’s interesting that the authoritarian countries have not been able to create anything comparable to that set of alliances. There is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), but all the Central Asian states don’t want to be part of this China-Russia dominated organization. We can’t just depend on great leadership.

Korea should proactively participate in upholding and creating an international order that facilitates a resurgence of democracy. Korea has not really played this role before, but with the 10th largest economy in the world, it is now in a position to play a positive role.
Gi-Wook Shin

[GWS] To add on to that, I think Korea should proactively participate in upholding and creating an international order that facilitates a resurgence of democracy. Korea has not really played this role before, but with the 10th largest economy in the world, it is now in a position to play a positive role.

[FF] There is a set of values that underpin America’s alliances, both in Asia and Europe. Throughout the whole Cold War, the Soviet Union never actually invaded a Western democracy, but that’s what Russia did. NATO has suddenly become very relevant once more. I think that both in Korea and Japan, there is also recognition of a comparable challenge from an authoritarian China. Unless all democracies work together and show solidarity with one another, they could be picked off by these two authoritarian powers.

[GWS] There is a lot of debate about whether China is going to invade Taiwan or not. I have a two-part question. First, could the situation in Ukraine reduce the possibility of China invading Taiwan? Second, if China still invades nevertheless, what should Korea do? This is a difficult question for Korea. It cannot say no to the United States as a military ally, but at the same time, it cannot antagonize China. I think this is the most difficult question for Korea at the moment.

[FF] This is a difficult question for the United States because it’s not clear that Congress or the American people actually want to go to war with China in order to save Taiwan. I think if you ask them a polling question stated like that, probably a majority would say, “No, we’re not going to send our troops to die.” But I think it’s likely that the United States will get dragged into such a conflict one way or the other. Among other things, the Chinese would probably have to preempt some of the American forces that are in the theater. American military personnel will get killed as the Chinese attack unfolds, and I think there will be a lot of political pressure to help Taiwan.

[GWS] How much can the United States be involved? Some in Korea are skeptical that Washington will step in.

[FF] This is really the problem. During the Cold War, we had a good idea of what a war would like look like if it actually happened. The military planning was very concretely designed against certain types of escalation. With China, we don’t have a clear set of expectations for what escalation would look like. It could just start with a Chinese invasion. It could start with a blockade. It could start with something in the South China Sea. It could actually start on the Korean Peninsula, with North Korea doing something. If it happens, it’s going to be much more devastating than the war in Ukraine. So much of global production comes out of Asia, and there’s a strong incentive not to let things get out of hand. Whether we have the wisdom to do that is not clear. I also think that people’s expectations and opinions will change once the conflict begins. The moment people see cities being bombed, they will change their minds.

Francis Fukuyama conversing in Gi-Wook Shin's office at Stanford University.
Francis Fukuyama. Kim Namseok/Munhwa Ilbo

[GWS] I also think that a conflict over Taiwan would affect the American people more directly than what is happening in Ukraine. What’s your view on how seriously Korea should be taking this possibility?

[FF] It is likely enough that it is absolutely important for everyone to take it seriously and plan against it. What you want to do is deter China from taking any military action against Taiwan. They’re not going to be deterred unless they see that there’s a response on the other side that is going to raise the cost for them. That’s not going to happen unless people take the scenarios seriously and start thinking about concrete ways that they could help Taiwan or stymie any kind of Chinese attack. I think it is very important for Korea to think this through and think about ways they could support Taiwan and be part of a larger alliance that can push back against China.

[GWS] I keep telling my friends and colleagues in Korea that they should take this problem much more seriously. Taiwan could become the biggest challenge for the Yoon administration’s foreign policy, not North Korea. China policy has become an extremely divisive partisan issue in South Korea, and it could tear the country apart. What advice would you have for President Yoon?

[FF] There’s two things. First is the rhetorical position. Korea should make its position clear in advance that it would oppose Chinese military action and would support the United States, for example. Korea is going to get dragged into this because so much U.S. military equipment is in Korea, and that is going to be moved in closer to the theater. I think making that position clear in advance is important.

The other thing that’s been very clear from the Ukraine war is that democracies are not prepared for an extended conflict. Everybody is running out of ammunition in Europe and the United States is running low on certain types of ammunition. The Ukrainians have used so much of it just in the 10 months they have been fighting. I think that any high-intensity conflict in East Asia is also going to be very costly in terms of supplies. South Korea is in a better position than other countries because it has been preparing for a North Korean attack for decades. Everybody needs to be prepared for an extended conflict. It may not be over in 48 hours.

[GWS] Koreans are quite nervously watching the ongoing escalation of tensions between the United States and China. In the past, the paradigm was “United States for security, China for the economy” (an-mi-gyeong-joong). Now, security and the economy are linked together. The Yoon government is promoting the strengthening of the alliance with the United States, but South Korea faces the fundamental problem of how to position itself as U.S.-China tensions escalate. Do you have any wisdom for Korea?

[FF] I don’t know if it’s wisdom, but I think Korea needs to take a clearer position. Under the previous government, there was a belief that Korea could somehow be halfway between China and the United States. That’s just not a tenable position. The tension between the United States and China has really been driven by China ever since 2013, when Xi Jinping took power. China has become a much more severe dictatorship internally, and it has become much more aggressive externally. You see the influence of the Belt and Road Initiative and the militarization of the South China Sea. In the last 10 or 15 years, China has been picking fights with India, Japan, Korea, and all of Southeast Asia over territorial issues. They built the size of their military much more rapidly than any other great power in that period of time. As a result, the United States and other countries have simply reacted to this. I think that a democracy like Korea cannot pretend that it is somehow in between the United States and China. It has to make the decision that it is going to be on the side of democracy.

[GWS] I agree that an-mi-gyeong-joong is now obsolete, but I think that South Korea must be more sophisticated in its response. As they say, the devil is in the details. On the economy, Seoul can actively work with Washington on areas closely related to security, but it can still partner with Beijing on sectors that are not. There can be a fine-tuned policy.

I now want to ask about North Korea and U.S. policy. I have been saying that the Biden administration policy is one of “strategic neglect,” not the “strategic patience” of the Obama administration. Kim Jong-un keeps testing missiles and provoking, and South Koreans are puzzled by the lack of response from Washington. Why is that? Is it because all the attention is on Ukraine and China?

[FF] Not every problem has a solution, and I don’t think this problem has a solution. You could use diplomacy. You could use military force. You could use deterrence. There are a limited number of possible approaches, and I think none of them are going to work. There has been a long history of negotiation. That has not worked. I think confrontation is not going to work. I think preemption is certainly not going to work. I just don’t think there’s a good solution, so we’ve ended up with trying to ignore the problem by default. Part of the reason North Korea is launching all of these missiles is that they want people to pay attention to them. Ignoring the problem is not much of a solution either, but it’s not as if there is a better solution.

[GWS] I agree with you that for many people in government, North Korea has been a hot potato. You don’t want to touch it because there is no clear solution, and it won’t help your career. But if we just ignore the problem, then five years later it’s going to be worse. What kind of North Korea are we going to face in five or ten years?

[FF] Everybody has been hoping that something would happen internally. It’s fine to think that, but it’s also not taking place. That said, Kim Jong-un is obese and unhealthy. Who knows what might happen?

We've had four elections now where [Trump] was playing a major role in the Republican Party. In three of those elections, he really hurt his own party. He can stir up a third of the electorate that loves him, but it’s never enough to win an election, especially in a swing state.
Francis Fukuyama

[GWS] Let’s now turn to domestic politics here in the United States. I think many Americans were relieved by what happened in the midterm elections last month. Trump’s influence was much more limited than what people thought. But he’s still there, and he’s likely to run again. I think he is still a strong candidate for the Republicans.

[FF] He declared his candidacy, but I think that he is declining very rapidly in influence. We have had four elections now where he was playing a major role in the Republican Party. In three of those elections, he really hurt his own party. He can stir up a third of the electorate that loves him, but it’s never enough to win an election, especially in a swing state. I think he’s gotten crazier in recent months. He is doing so many self-destructive things, having dinner with neo-Nazis and repeating all these conspiracy theories. These are things that no rational candidate would do. The Republicans are going to want somebody that can actually beat the Democrats, and I don’t think it’s going to be him.

[GWS] You don’t expect a rematch between Biden and Trump in 2024?

[FF] This gets into a technical issue, but the Republican primaries are mostly winner-take-all primaries. Any candidate that can get 30% of the vote is likely to be nominated. If you have a Republican field that has several people competing, they may split the alternative vote and Trump may end up winning. I think he still has a good chance of being the Republican nominee. If you’re a Democrat, that’s not the worst thing in the world. It is probably easier to run against Trump than a more normal Republican candidate.

[GWS] Two years is still a long time in politics. You said that Trump is likely to be nominated. Would Biden also run again?

[FF] I think that Biden is going to run again. Part of the problem is in the Democratic Party. It’s not clear who the successor would be. There are a lot of potential new-generation politicians, but I don’t think any of them has enough presence and attention that they can clearly take over the mantle to run as the Democratic candidate. If there is a rematch, I think Biden will win.

[GWS] Now to South Korea. Last June, I did some interviews advocating a parliamentary system, and they received good attention. There is still a lot of hesitancy among Koreans, though. I think there are a few reasons. The first is that we need a strong presidential system to deal with North Korea. There’s no stability if the prime minister keeps changing. Second is that it may drive politicians closer to big business (chaebol) because there’s less direct accountability. What would you suggest for South Korea in terms of institutional reform?

[FF] There are several possibilities even short of a parliamentary system. You can coordinate the presidential and parliamentary terms. It’s still the case that the president has a five-year term, but the legislature is on an even-year term. If you want to have strong government, you need a president that has majority support in the legislature. If they get elected simultaneously on a regular basis, you’re more likely to see strong leadership emerge. In a presidential system, the legislature itself is a check against the president. If you don’t have a strong majority in the legislature, you can’t do anything.

[GWS] That is what is happening right now in Korea.

[FF] In a parliamentary system like the British one, if you have a majority in parliament, you can do what you want. I think the presumption that somehow a presidential system is inevitably stronger than a parliamentary system is not historically correct.

[GWS] Is a parliamentary system maybe one solution to political polarization?

[FF] Sometimes a parliamentary system will have that effect, but the kind of plurality voting system that we have in the United States and in Britain tends to promote polarization. To the extent that you make it possible for third parties to run, that’s probably a better system. If you have more parties and it becomes harder to get a majority in the legislature, that forces coalitions and some degree of power sharing.

Francis Fukuyama 2022

Francis Fukuyama

Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Director of the Ford Dorsey Master’s in International Policy, and Professor by Courtesy, Department of Political Science
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Gi-Wook Shin

Gi-Wook Shin

Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Professor of Sociology, William J. Perry Professor of Contemporary Korea, Director of the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, and Director of the Korea Program
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A Conversation with Francis Fukuyama on the Challenges of a Changing Global Order

Shorenstein APARC Encina Hall E301 Stanford University
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Visiting Scholar at FSI and APARC, 2022-23
Payne Distinguished Fellow, 2023 Winter Quarter

Ambassador Jung-Seung Shin joins the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI) and the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center (Shorenstein APARC) as Visiting Scholar and Payne Distinguished Fellow for the 2023 winter quarter. He previously served as Ambassador for the Republic of Korea to the People's Republic of China from 2008 to 2010, and currently serves as Chair Professor at the East Asia Institute at Dongseo University. While at Stanford, he will be conducting research on the strategic relationships between Korea, China, and the United States.

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Illustration of a splintering chain draped in U.S. and China flags with text "Avoiding Disaster: U.S.-China Relations"

For many years now, U.S.-China relations could reasonably be described as strained. Frequent public and private talks and bilateral communications that were once a normal part of the relationship are challenging with public rebukes and mutual recriminations becoming increasingly frequent. Was this inevitable? How do we explain this development? And are the U.S. and China destined for a cold war?

Professor Jia Qingguo, Visiting Scholar and Payne Distinguished Fellow for the 2022 fall quarter at Stanfordwill address these points, present a vision for the bilateral relationship in the foreseeable future, and discuss what can be done to avoid a disastrous confrontation between the two powers.

Featured Speaker

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Jia Qingguo Headshot
Jia Qingguo is a Professor and former Dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University. He received his Ph.D. from the Department of Government at Cornell University in 1988. He is a member of the Standing Committee of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. He is vice president of the China American Studies Association, vice president of the China Association for International Studies, and vice president of the China Japanese Studies Association. He has published extensively on US-China relations, relations between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan and Chinese foreign policy.

Discussants

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Tom Fingar Headshot
Thomas Fingar is a Shorenstein APARC Fellow in the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University. He was the inaugural Oksenberg-Rohlen Distinguished Fellow from 2010 through 2015 and the Payne Distinguished Lecturer at Stanford in 2009. From 2005 through 2008, he served as the first deputy director of national intelligence for analysis and, concurrently, as chairman of the National Intelligence Council. Fingar served previously as assistant secretary of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (2000-01 and 2004-05), principal deputy assistant secretary (2001-03), deputy assistant secretary for analysis (1994-2000), director of the Office of Analysis for East Asia and the Pacific (1989-94), and chief of the China Division (1986-89). Between 1975 and 1986 he held a number of positions at Stanford University, including senior research associate in the Center for International Security and Arms Control.

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Michael McFaul Headshot
Michael McFaul is Director at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, the Ken Olivier and Angela Nomellini Professor of International Studies in the Department of Political Science, and the Peter and Helen Bing Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. He joined the Stanford faculty in 1995. Dr. McFaul also is as an International Affairs Analyst for NBC News and a columnist for The Washington Post. He served for five years in the Obama administration, first as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Russian and Eurasian Affairs at the National Security Council at the White House (2009-2012), and then as U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation (2012-2014). 

This event is part of the Frank E. and Arthur W. Payne Lecture Series. 

The Payne Lectureship is named for Frank E. Payne and Arthur W. Payne, brothers who gained an appreciation for global problems through their international business operations. Their descendants endowed the annual lecture series at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies to raise public understanding of the complex policy issues facing the global community today and to increase support for informed international cooperation.

The Payne Distinguished Lecturer is chosen for his or her international reputation as a leader, with an emphasis on visionary thinking, a broad, practical grasp of a given field, and the capacity to clearly articulate an important perspective on the global community and its challenges.

Jean C. Oi

In-Person at Oksenberg Room, Encina Hall 3rd Floor
616 Jane Stanford Way, Stanford Campus

Qingguo Jia
Tom Fingar
Michael McFaul
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Gi-Wook Shin
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This essay originally appeared in Korean on October 27 in Sindonga (New East Asia), Korea’s oldest monthly magazine (established 1931), as part of a monthly column, "Shin’s Reflections on Korea." Translated by Raymond Ha. A PDF version of this essay is also available to download.


Tensions between the United States and China are escalating and spreading into every corner of the complex bilateral relationship, including trade, advanced technologies, finance, ideology, talent, and the military domain. In 2019, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who played a critical role in Nixon’s opening to China, warned that the two countries were at “the foothills of a Cold War.” If left unresolved, he added, there could be dire consequences—worse than those of World War I.

Xi Jinping is driven by his grand vision of a “Chinese dream.” He secured the foundations for an unprecedented third term as president at the 20th party congress last month, as he prepares for a “new great struggle” to achieve China’s dominance on the world stage.[1] Meanwhile, the Biden administration is raising the pressure on Beijing through a series of legislative measures under the banner of “Made in America.” It is bringing economic security to the forefront of its diplomacy, encouraging allies to participate in initiatives such as the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) and the so-called Chip 4 alliance. 

Moreover, the United States is openly criticizing China’s human rights record, including the situation in Tibet and Xinjiang. There are growing concerns about the risk of a military clash between the two countries, particularly over Taiwan. In its recently published national security strategy, the Biden administration refers to the coming “decisive decade” in the strategic competition against China.[2] The 2022 national defense strategy also calls China the “most consequential strategic competitor” of the United States.[3]

The deepening rift between the United States and China presents many countries, including South Korea, with a vexing foreign policy challenge. There was a profound conflict between Washington and Moscow during the Cold War, and there were tensions between Japan and the United States in the 1980s. However, Seoul was not pressured to take a side in either era. South Korea signed a mutual defense treaty with Washington shortly after the 1953 armistice. This endured throughout the Cold War and to the present day. Even as it challenged U.S. supremacy, Japan remained a treaty ally of the United States. The current situation is fundamentally different and more complicated. South Korea is increasingly under pressure to side with Washington or Beijing on a wide array of regional and international issues.

For some time, experts and policymakers called for relying on the United States for security while partnering with China for the economy (an-mi-gyeong-joong). This paradigm is now obsolete.
Gi-Wook Shin

How should Korea navigate this turbulent landscape? For some time, experts and policymakers called for relying on the United States for security while partnering with China for the economy (an-mi-gyeong-joong). This paradigm is now obsolete.[4] The Yoon administration has proclaimed a values-based foreign policy to strengthen solidarity between liberal democracies. In his opening statement at the ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh on November 11, President Yoon reiterated Korea’s support for “strengthening a rule-based international order built on universal values” to foster “freedom, peace, and prosperity” in the Indo-Pacific.[5]

Anti-China sentiment is worsening by the day, even surpassing anti-Japan sentiment. At the same time, there are also growing complaints about the United States, especially after the exclusion of consumer tax credits for Korea’s electric vehicles in the Inflation Reduction Act.
Gi-Wook Shin

Will this approach be sufficient, however? Conflicting trends in Korea’s domestic public opinion complicate the picture. On the one hand, anti-China sentiment is worsening by the day, even surpassing anti-Japan sentiment. At the same time, there are also growing complaints about the United States, especially after the exclusion of consumer tax credits for Korea’s electric vehicles in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). Taking these developments into account, this essay seeks to explore the path ahead for Korea by analyzing the nature of U.S.-China tensions and assessing the durability of Pax Americana.

Heading into Thucydides Trap?

U.S.-China relations are widely characterized as “Thucydides Trap.” The Peloponnesian War is regarded as one of the main reasons behind the decline of ancient Greek civilization. Thucydides, an Athenian general and historian, famously wrote that the fundamental cause of this war was due to Spartan fears over the growth of Athenian power. Drawing from Thucydides, international relations theorists have used the concept of a Thucydides Trap to explain tensions between a rising power and a status quo hegemon. Graham Allison, a professor of political science at Harvard, popularized this concept by applying it to Sino-U.S. relations in Destined for War. Beginning from the clash between Portugal and Spain in the late 15th century, Allison notes that there have been 16 instances where an emerging power challenged the hegemonic power. There was a war in all but four cases. When an emerging power is strong enough to challenge the hegemon, this creates structural stresses that frequently lead to a violent conflict.

Based on his analysis of the historical record, Allison warns that the rift between the United States (America First) and China (the Chinese dream) is much wider and deeper than most people perceive it to be. There is now a heightened risk of an armed confrontation between the two countries over Taiwan. Nevertheless, the likelihood of a catastrophic hegemonic war still remains low. Instead, there is likely to be a prolonged conflict and competition between Washington and Beijing centered on advanced technologies.

Made in China 2025 and the Chinese Dream

The U.S.-China trade war began under the Trump administration. Made in China 2025 (MIC 2025), a policy roadmap published by the Chinese government in 2015, drew the attention of the United States and other Western countries. In its opening paragraph, it states that “building an internationally competitive manufacturing industry is the only way China can enhance its comprehensive national strength, ensure national security, and build itself into a world power.”[6]

From the emphasis on “the only way,” it is clear that MIC 2025 is not just an industrial policy. It is an integral element of China’s national security strategy. Under this plan, China seeks to achieve progress in advanced manufacturing technologies such as big data, information technology, aerospace, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology. The goal is to become the world’s leading manufacturing power by surpassing the United States.

After MIC 2025 sparked controversy in the West, the Chinese government has refrained from referring to it in public. Nonetheless, it has continued to implement this policy in practice. At the 2021 Lianghui, the concurrent annual meetings of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political and Consultative Conference, the Chinese government strengthened its resolve to reduce its dependence on U.S.-led global value chains as it sought to develop advanced technologies. Specifically, it emphasized the economic policy of dual circulation, which aims to raise domestic consumption while expanding exports of high value-added goods to foreign markets.

The advanced technologies that China is focusing on have potential military applications. For example, drones, artificial intelligence, and facial recognition technology can be used for reconnaissance satellites and unmanned aerial vehicles. China is pursuing military-civil fusion through the Military-Civil Fusion Development Committee, chaired by President Xi. This indicates that Xi intends to personally oversee China’s ambitious efforts to challenge the United States. At this year’s Lianghui, Xi stressed that China is in a strategically advantageous position in its deepening competition with the United States. Furthermore, he unveiled a plan to achieve his “dream of a strong military” by modernizing China’s armed forces through mechanization and the use of advanced information technology. Despite a slowdown in China’s economy, Xi increased defense spending by 7.1 percent.[7]

Those who analyze Xi Jinping’s character classify him as an ideological purist, a true believer of socialism. He sees a historic opportunity for China to become a global superpower, and believes that it is his calling to realize socialism in the 21st century. Unlike his predecessors, he does not shy away from conflict with the United States. In a September 30, 2022, essay in Qiushi, the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) leading theoretical journal, Xi stated that “today, we have never been so close to achieving the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, and we have never been more confident in our faith and ability to achieve this goal.”[8] Only two weeks before the CCP’s 20th party congress, where he would secure a third term as general secretary, Xi stressed the need for strong leadership to prepare for the intensifying competition with the United States.

Under Xi’s leadership, the CCP is driven by the zeitgeist of the Chinese dream, of realizing the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. The goal is to make the People’s Republic of China (PRC) the most powerful economic and military power in the world. The emphasis on achieving this goal by 2049 is no coincidence, as it will mark the centennial of the CCP’s victory in the Chinese Civil War, where it defeated the Kuomintang and established the PRC. This timeline also aligns with Xi’s vision of building an advanced socialist country by 2050, which he proclaimed at the 19th National Congress of the CCP. China has a truly ambitious vision, one that leaves the United States no choice but to respond.

From America First to Made in America

When Donald Trump proclaimed “America First” as his slogan in his bid for the White House, his primary target was China. He blamed China for the loss of American jobs, claiming that the United States was suffering greatly from China’s unfair trade practices and interference in markets. This message bolstered his support among white blue-collar workers in the Rust Belt, as they had witnessed a dramatic decline in manufacturing jobs. This enabled him to win key swing states in the Midwest, leading to his victory in the 2016 election.

Upon entering office, Trump consistently maintained a hardline policy against China. For example, the “Secure 5G and Beyond Act of 2020” passed the House 413–3 and cleared the Senate on March 6, 2020. The intent of this law was to create a “whole-of-government approach” to protect America’s telecommunications networks from national security threats posed by Chinese companies such as Huawei and ZTE, which played a major role in the rollout of 5G networks across the world.[9] His administration increased government oversight of Chinese investment in or acquisition of U.S. tech companies and scrutinized partnerships between American universities and Chinese entities. It tightened visa review procedures for students and visiting scholars from the PRC. It also designated Confucius Institutes in the United States as a “foreign mission” that “[advances] Beijing’s global propaganda and malign influence campaign on U.S. campuses and K-12 classrooms.”[10] All of these measures stemmed from a recognition that China was rapidly closing in on the United States. The National Intelligence Council estimates that if current trends continue, China will surpass the United States to become the world’s largest economy between 2030 and 2035.

The American public’s view of China has continued to deteriorate after Trump left office. According to Pew Research, 47% of respondents held a negative view of China in 2018. This surged to 60% in 2019 and 82% in 2022.[11] Despite a transfer of power to the Democrats in 2020, the overall orientation of U.S. policy toward China has remained unchanged. Under the banner of “Made in America,” the Biden administration has carefully crafted a dense web of policies aimed at China.

In the past three months alone, there have been a raft of legislative and executive measures that encompass semiconductors, electric cars and batteries, and biotechnology. This includes the CHIPS and Science Act (August 9), the IRA (August 16), and an Executive Order on Advancing Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Innovation (September 12). These steps are intended to check China’s rise and promote the growth of America’s advanced technology and clean energy sectors. The CHIPS and Science Act sets aside $52.7 billion dollars for America’s semiconductor industry.[12] Companies that receive subsidies under this law are barred from expanding operations or otherwise investing in China for the purpose of manufacturing advanced semiconductors.[13] As noted below, certain provisions of the IRA will also have significant ramifications for Korea’s exports of electric cars to the U.S. market.

Even in Silicon Valley, where anti-China sentiment is not as deeply rooted as it is in Washington, there are concerns about the risk of Chinese industrial espionage and intellectual property theft. There is a hesitation among start-ups to accept funding from Chinese investors.
Gi-Wook Shin

As it undertakes a series of legislative steps at home, the Biden administration has pursued multilateralism abroad. This is a key difference from Trump, who preferred bilateral arrangements. The Biden administration is seeking to institutionalize economic and technological alliances through initiatives such as IPEF and the Chip 4 alliance, and it is encouraging Korea and other allies to participate. By stressing intellectual property rights and China’s unfair economic practices, strengthening its own technological capabilities, and reinforcing relevant international norms, Washington is compelling Beijing to operate within a U.S.-led international order. Even in Silicon Valley, where anti-China sentiment is not as deeply rooted as it is in Washington, there are serious concerns about the risk of Chinese industrial espionage and intellectual property theft. There is a palpable hesitation among start-ups to accept funding from Chinese investors. Chinese investment in America increased throughout the 2000s until reaching a peak of $46 billion in 2016. This plummeted by almost 90% to $5 billion in 2018, due in part to political tensions.[14]

Will Pax Americana Endure?

Since the beginning of Pax Americana in 1945, there have been three challenges to America’s status as a global hegemon: by the Soviet Union during the Cold War, Japan in the 1980s, and China in the present day. The Soviet Union engaged in a tense military confrontation with the United States for decades, but collapsed in the late 1980s due to the limitations and internal contradictions of its communist system. Japan once threatened to displace America from the apex of the global capitalist order, but lapsed into the “Lost Two Decades” after its economic bubble burst in the early 1990s. What can we say about the future of China, which is engaging in fierce competition against the United States? In short, I believe that China will not surpass the United States in our time.

Those who predict that China will eclipse the United States point to economic trends. China surpassed Japan in 2010 to become the world’s second-largest economy. It also became the world’s largest exporter in 2014, when its gross domestic product exceeded 60% of U.S. GDP. In purchasing power parity terms, China has already leapfrogged the United States. Both present-day statistics and long-term economic trends point in one direction. If the Chinese government makes a concerted effort to invest in key strategic industries, as outlined in MIC 2025, it is certainly feasible for China to surpass the United States to become the world’s leading manufacturing power by 2049.

However, China still lags far behind the United States in many areas, including military power. In absolute terms, for example, its defense spending is only one-third of what the United States spends on its military. There are also a host of political, social, demographic, and economic challenges that hamper China in its campaign to attain global supremacy.[15] Xi’s aggressive anti-corruption campaign is an indication of widespread corruption in Chinese society. There are also serious human rights issues in Tibet and Xinjiang, and the three Ts of Taiwan, Tibet, and Tiananmen cannot be openly discussed. China’s problems extend beyond its borders. With a land border of nearly 14,000 miles with 14 countries, managing territorial disputes is a tall order. There are also tensions with its maritime neighbors in the South China Sea. China’s efforts at public diplomacy have been unsuccessful, as can be seen from the widespread rise of anti-Chinese sentiment in South Korea and other countries.

Amidst these challenges, Xi Jinping secured a third term as president at the 20th party congress on October 16. Since Deng Xiaoping, China has managed leadership transitions in a relatively stable fashion. Under a system of collective leadership, the leader served two five-year terms and appointed his successor in advance. These practices created a certain degree of predictability, stability, and transparency, thereby facilitating  China’s dramatic economic growth and making it powerful enough to compete with the United States. Xi Jinping has sharply broken from this tradition as he seeks to become a 21st-century emperor.

China’s growth was enabled in no small part by talented individuals who studied abroad and then returned home to apply their experiences and insights. As China closes its doors to the outside world, it is also limiting its potential to become a leader in innovation.

Some argue that China is destined to become an imperial power. However, it will be difficult for a fast follower such as China to build an empire. In general, a country must be a first mover or trendsetter to become a hegemonic power. For example, in the corporate sector, Xiaomi may catch up to Samsung, but can it replace Apple? Tech companies such as Alibaba and Baidu have achieved rapid growth thanks to a sizable domestic market, but they have emulated the business models of Amazon and Google. They have not created a new, transformative platform. China’s growth was enabled in no small part by talented individuals who studied abroad and then returned home to apply their experiences and insights. As China closes its doors to the outside world, it is also limiting its potential to become a leader in innovation.

Furthermore, China is failing to serve as a role model for other countries. Except for a few countries in Africa and Asia, the Belt and Road Initiative has yet to yield meaningful results. If anything, anti-China sentiment is deepening across Europe, North America, and Asia. While the Soviet Union had the communist bloc, China lacks a reliable group of allies. China has indeed achieved remarkable growth in the past 30 years, presenting lucrative economic opportunities for individuals and companies in China and abroad. However, talented individuals across the world would arguably prefer to study, work, and live in the United States than in China. Japan’s postwar growth inspired a “Japan boom,” a desire to study and emulate Japan. There is no comparable “China boom” to speak of.

Rich Mandarins

The Palo Alto area, where I have lived and worked for over two decades, has some of the highest housing prices in the United States. A small condo, which is equivalent to an apartment unit in Korea, costs over $1 million. Since I moved to Stanford in 2001, the Bay Area has seen three significant surges in housing prices. The first two waves resulted from a sudden increase in wealth among young tech workers when Google and Facebook went public. On the other hand, the third surge is said to be related to Chinese residents. Locals call these individuals, who purchase high-end housing in cash, “rich mandarins.”

This group includes company founders and investment professionals, as well as entrepreneurs who have listed their companies on New York’s Stock Exchange. They are mostly in their 50s, and they played a critical role in China’s economic growth through their contributions to the IT sector. Although they have amassed an enormous amount of wealth, they are anxious about China’s prospects and the country’s uncertain political future. They are also worried that the government could seize their companies or their individual property. Their families have already moved to America, and they conduct business by shuttling between China and the United States. Some have left China in search of a new life and career.

As long as those who have attained success in China eventually end up in the United States, China cannot become the world’s leading superpower. These individuals are voting with their feet.

As long as those who have attained success in China eventually end up in the United States, China cannot become the world’s leading superpower. These individuals are voting with their feet. Professor Wang Jisi of Peking University has said that “the day the U.S. truly declines is when visa lines in front of its consulates are no longer crowded.”[16] There is pessimism even among China’s economic elite about the country’s future, especially as Xi Jinping further tightens political control under a one-man dictatorship.

For China to surpass the United States and lead the international order, we should see the opposite. Instead of China’s elites rushing toward the United States, there should be an outflow of American elites to China. Only then can we truly speak of a Pax Sinica. In addition, countries across the world should seek to emulate the Chinese model, not the American model. Based on my own knowledge and experience, I am convinced that the likelihood of such trends emerging in the next 20 or 30 years is vanishingly small. It is thus realistic and reasonable to expect Pax Americana to continue into the next generation, with clear implications for Korea’s foreign policy going forward.

An Empire of Liberty

The United States is a hegemonic power that wields unparalleled influence across the world. It exercises its economic and military power to uphold its political, military, and cultural dominance. Institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF are critical elements of Pax Americana, as are programs such as the Peace Corps and Fulbright Scholarships. During the War on Terror, the United States sacrificed many lives and trillions of dollars in prolonged conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Over the past 100 years, the United States took part in 35 wars, large and small.It will likely be recorded as the country that has participated in the most armed conflicts. Pax Americana appears to be much more robust than Pax Romana or Pax Britannica.

For these reasons, Korea’s progressives criticize American imperialism and advocate for cultivating closer ties with China. We should ask, however, whether a Pax Sinica would be preferable to Pax Americana.

Compared to that of the Soviet Union or present-day China, America’s empire is far more sophisticated. History also tells us so. Although the United States is criticized at times for failing to live up to its proclaimed values, it has shown the strongest commitment to democracy and human rights of any superpower. In an ideal world, the international order would be built solely on sovereign equality. However, any superpower will seek to construct its preferred international order and defend it using various levers of power, including the use of force. To maintain its global hegemony, the United States has effectively deployed a mixture of hard power, soft power, and smart power.

The Yoon administration’s clear articulation of its intent to build a values-based alliance with the United States and other liberal democracies is commendable. There are only a handful of countries other than Korea that have both a defense treaty and an FTA with the U.S.
Gi-Wook Shin

Based on historical experience and a critical analysis of the current state of the world, it would be dangerous to presuppose that Pax Sinica will displace Pax Americana anytime soon. From Korea’s standpoint, it would be unwise to call for strategic ambiguity or for maintaining an equidistant posture between the United States and China. As previously noted, the paradigm of an-mi-gyeong-joong is no longer viable.[17] The Yoon administration’s clear articulation of its intent to build a values-based alliance with the United States and other liberal democracies is commendable. In fact, there are only a handful of countries other than Korea—Israel, Canada, and Australia—that have both a defense treaty and a free trade agreement (FTA) with the United States. Korea must foster relationships with these countries, which are a valuable diplomatic asset.

There is deep disappointment and anger in Korea [about the IRA], as this creates a significant disadvantage for Korea’s auto companies. To put it bluntly, Korea’s companies are paying the cost of the Korean government’s failure to address stark economic realities.
Gi-Wook Shin

At the same time, it would be imprudent to focus only on abstract values and neglect vital economic or security interests. Let us consider a recent example. Korea’s leading conglomerates—including Samsung Electronics, Hyundai Motor Group, and SK—have pledged to invest $26 billion in the United States this year alone. However, the recently passed IRA only provides consumer tax credits to electric vehicles manufactured in North America. There is deep disappointment and anger in Korea, as this creates a significant disadvantage for Korea’s auto companies. To put it bluntly, Korea’s companies are paying the cost of the Korean government’s failure to address stark economic realities.

If the Yoon administration indeed seeks to reduce Korea’s economic dependence on China, it should have a roadmap to strengthen economic ties with the United States while protecting Korea’s own interests. As the United States brings economic security to the forefront, Korea should devise a strategy to avoid repeating the same mistake. Furthermore, even if Korea partners with the United States in advanced technologies that affect national security, it can still maintain economic relations with China in other sectors, including retail, consumer goods, and manufacturing. For values-based diplomacy to be successful, it must be upheld by interest-based diplomacy.

In Search of a Non-Partisan Foreign Policy

In this context, it is worth closely examining two recently published columns regarding the IRA controversy. The first is an op-ed entitled “Yoon Has Been Played by the United States” (September 20) by Park Hyeon, a senior columnist at the progressive Hankyoreh. The second is an op-ed entitled “The IRA Undermines Trust in the Alliance” (September 26) by Lee Mi-Sook, a well-known conservative commentator, in the Munhwa Ilbo.[18] As former Washington correspondents, Park and Lee both have firsthand knowledge of America’s inner workings. Park’s column focuses on criticizing the Yoon administration, while Lee’s piece expresses concern about a weakened U.S.-Korea alliance. Nevertheless, they both show that U.S. policies aimed at China could spark anti-American sentiment in Korea.

Park writes that “the United States, under the banner of economic security, is tying its allies and friendly countries into a U.S.-led economic bloc, weakening China—the hegemonic challenger—while seeking a revival of its domestic manufacturing industry.” He begins from the premise that “this kind of protectionism is harmful for open, export-driven economies such as Korea.” With full knowledge of this state of affairs, Hyundai Motor Group pledged to invest more than $10 billion in the United States, expecting its cars to be granted subsidies in return. Instead, it was given the cold shoulder. Park adds that “the Presidential Office fell into disarray” and missed a golden opportunity to raise these concerns with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who visited Korea shortly after the final text of the IRA was released on July 27. This failure is characteristic of Yoon’s foreign policy, Park concludes.

In her column, Lee writes that “the IRA could once again imperil the U.S.-Korea alliance, which faced a serious crisis under the Trump administration.” She goes on to say that “the exclusion of Korean electric vehicles from subsidies, despite the ‘national treatment’ clause in the Korea-U.S. FTA, is raising suspicions about an underlying lack of concern for Korea in the United States.” Moreover, she adds that “there are signs this dispute over subsidies could turn into something far worse—a question of hurt national pride.” She warns that “if America fails to show flexibility and sticks to the original provision of the IRA, this will not only erode Koreans’ trust in the alliance, but also provide political fodder for progressives (former pro-democracy activists) to stoke anti-Americanism.” In closing, Lee calls upon the United States “to consider Korea’s view of the situation and act in a way that honors the spirit of the U.S.-Korea alliance.”

It is commendable for the Yoon administration to focus on strengthening the U.S.-Korea alliance and building solidarity around shared values, but it must also call on Washington to reciprocate Seoul’s efforts.
Gi-Wook Shin

As these op-eds indicate, both progressives and conservatives are openly expressing their concern about the United States’ failure to show adequate concern for Korea. It is commendable for the Yoon administration to focus on strengthening the U.S.-Korea alliance and building solidarity around shared values, but it must also call on Washington to reciprocate Seoul’s efforts. For instance, as Lee Mi-Sook notes in her column, Korea could suggest an amendment to the IRA to apply subsidies to electric vehicles produced in countries that have an FTA with the United States. Policy missteps could lead to a resurgence of anti-American sentiment in Korea, putting the Yoon administration in a political quagmire. The controversy over the IRA may be the first of many such issues, especially if the Biden administration intensifies its “Made in America” policy.

To overcome the unforgiving realities of Korea’s foreign policy environment, the Yoon administration must be able to rely on a robust domestic consensus and strong popular support. Foreign policy requires a high level of expertise. Some issues have to be resolved behind the scenes, with experts and government officials playing a leading role. That said, foreign policy should not be left entirely in the hands of policy elites, and it should not be a partisan political football. On several occasions, minor incidents during President Yoon’s recent overseas visits received undue attention in the press and became the subject of ridicule back home. This is entirely unnecessary. For example, take the controversy surrounding a hot mic moment during a visit to New York in September.[19] Looking from the outside in, it is difficult to understand why the whole country became engulfed in a bitter partisan debate about a trivial gaffe. Little attention was paid to the substance of the visit.

It is vital to establish a norm whereby important foreign policy issues are addressed in a non-ideological, non-partisan manner that garners broad public support. To do so, the Korean government must increase transparency in its decision-making process when it comes to major issues. It must also endeavor to gather and incorporate public opinion in foreign policy, so that the public does not feel unduly detached from the policymaking process. Governments across the world now recognize domestic public opinion as a critical element of their foreign policy strategy. Diplomacy cannot be effective without public support. Korea’s diplomats, who are in the trenches of international diplomacy, need all the support they can get.

There is no telling when Korea might be battered by a perfect storm in its foreign policy, given the current state of U.S.-China relations. As Hal Brands and Michael Beckley warn in Danger Zone: The Coming Conflict with China, the race between the United States and China may end up being a sprint, not a marathon. This decade may be the most dangerous period in U.S.-China relations. In the early 20th century, Korea lost its sovereignty after failing to establish a coherent foreign policy, with different factions supporting China, Russia, and Japan. Upon liberation in 1945, extreme ideological confrontation split the peninsula in two. Korea cannot afford to make the same mistake again.

 

[1] Gi-Wook Shin and Seong-Hyon Lee, “Op-Ed: In China, Xi Jinping Is Getting an Unprecedented Third Term. What Should the World Expect?”, Los Angeles Times, October 20, 2022, https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2022-10-20/china-government-president-xi-jinping.
 

[3] U.S. Department of Defense, 2022 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America, October 2022, https://media.defense.gov/2022/Oct/27/2003103845/-1/-1/1/2022-NATIONAL-DEFENSE-STRATEGY-NPR-MDR.PDF.
 

[4] A recent survey of the South Korean public indicates that “only 43 percent of. . . respondents agree with this framework to some degree.” See Gi-Wook Shin, Haley M. Gordon, and Hannah June Kim, “South Korea Votes, Beijing Watches,” American Purpose, March 2, 2022, https://www.americanpurpose.com/articles/south-korea-votes-beijing-watches/. See also Gi-Wook Shin, “In the Wake of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine, Korea Should Join Its Peers in Defending the Liberal International Order,” Shorenstein APARC, June 1, 2022, https://fsi.stanford.edu/news/wake-russia%E2%80%99s-invasion-ukraine-korea-should-join-its-peers-defending-liberal-international.
 

[5] ROK Presidential Office, “President Yoon’s Opening Remarks at the ASEAN Summit” [in Korean], November 11, 2022, https://www.korea.kr/news/policyNewsView.do?newsId=148908196.
 

[6] PRC State Council, “Notice of the State Council on the Publication of ‘Made in China 2025’,” May 8, 2015. Translation provided by Center for Security and Emerging Technology, Georgetown University, https://cset.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/t0432_made_in_china_2025_EN.pdf
 

[7] “China to Raise Defense Spending by 7.1% to $229 Billion,” AP News, March 5, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/business-china-congress-d03b477b646b055241e7712f86bacee6.
 

[8] Xi Jinping, “The Historic Mission of the Chinese Communist Party in this New Era,” Qiushi, September 30, 2022, http://www.qstheory.cn/dukan/qs/2022-09/30/c_1129040825.htm. The original text reads “今天,我们比历史上任何时期都更接近、更有信心和能力实现中华民族伟大复兴的目标”.
 

[9] For the full text, see Secure 5G and Beyond Act of 2020, Pub. L. No. 116–129, 134 Stat. 223 (2020), https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/PLAW-116publ129/pdf/PLAW-116publ129.pdf.
 

[10] U.S. Department of State, “Designation of the Confucius Institute U.S. Center as a Foreign Mission of the PRC,” August 13, 2020, https://2017-2021.state.gov/designation-of-the-confucius-institute-u-s-center-as-a-foreign-mission-of-the-prc/index.html.
 

[11] Christine Huang, Laura Silver, and Laura Clancy, “China’s Partnership With Russia Seen as Serious Problem for the U.S.,” Pew Research Center, April 28, 2022, https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2022/04/28/chinas-partnership-with-russia-seen-as-serious-problem-for-the-us/.
 

[12] The White House, “Fact Sheet: CHIPS and Science Act Will Lower Costs, Create Jobs, Strengthen Supply Chains, and Counter China,” August 9, 2022, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/08/09/fact-sheet-chips-and-science-act-will-lower-costs-create-jobs-strengthen-supply-chains-and-counter-china/.
 

[13] Kinling Lo, “US Chips Act Bars American Companies in China from Building ‘Advanced Tech’ Factories for 10 years,” South China Morning Post, September 7, 2022, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/3191596/us-chips-act-bars-american-companies-china-building-advanced-tech.
 

[14] Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, “Chinese Investment into the US and EU Has Plummeted since 2016,” Peterson Institute for International Economics, September 16, 2019. https://www.piie.com/research/piie-charts/chinese-investment-us-and-eu-has-plummeted-2016.
 

[15] The dynamism of its universities also provides the United States with a significant advantage. See Gi-Wook Shin, “Why Korea’s Future Depends on Its Universities,” Shorenstein APARC, October 13, 2022, https://fsi.stanford.edu/news/why-korea%E2%80%99s-future-depends-its-universities.
 

[16] Tuvia Gering, “Discourse Power,” May 30, 2022, https://discoursepower.substack.com/p/discourse-power-may-30-2022.
 

[17] Shin, “In the Wake of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine.”
 

[19] President Yoon, after a meeting with President Biden, was caught on a hot mic using an expletive in reference to members of the ROK National Assembly.

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As U.S.-China tensions escalate, Korea must chart a new path.

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In October 2022, the Chinese Communist Party elected Xi Jinping for a third term as general secretary, setting Xi on a path to be the longest-serving leader since Mao Zedong’s rule ended in 1976.

The extension of Xi’s rule carries significant implications not only for China, but for the broader Indo-Pacific region and global geopolitical order. No country is more aware of this than Taiwan, which has carefully walked the line between its own autonomy and Beijing’s desire for reunification since the 1940s.

After a summer of rising tensions, many experts believe that Beijing’s timeline for an attempt at reunification is much shorter than conventional thinking has assumed. On the World Class podcast, Michael McFaul, director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, discusses the prognosis for Taiwan with Oriana Skylar Mastro, an expert on the Chinese military and security, and Larry Diamond, a scholar of China’s sharp power and the role of Taiwan in the Indo-Pacific region.

Listen to the full episode and read highlights from their conversation below.

Click the link for a full transcript of “What We Need To Talk About When We Talk About Taiwan.“

The Likelihood of Invasion


In stark terms, Oriana Skylar Mastro, a center fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, believes there’s a 100% chance China will use some sort of force against Taiwan in the next five years. For the last twenty years, China has been making concerted efforts to modernize its military and increase its capabilities not only to assert force against Taiwan, but to deter intervention from the United States.

In the majority of scenarios, the United States wins in a conflict with China over Taiwan. But the United States also carries a distinct geographic disadvantage. The distance across the Taiwan Strait between the island and mainland China is approximately 100 miles, which is roughly the distance between Richmond, Virginia and Washington D.C. If China moves quickly, PRC forces could take Taiwan before U.S. forces have time to move into position.

When considering possible outcomes in Taiwan, it is equally important to consider the motivations driving Beijing’s ambitions. The leadership on the mainland has been planning and thinking about how to retake Taiwan since 1949. With the modernized capabilities coming online, the balance of power has shifted in China’s military favor, and the cost-benefit calculus favors Beijing’s ambitions. The long-term planning stage is now reaching its end, and the prospects of direct action are increasing.

The clock is ticking. The problem is we don’t know how fast it’s ticking. But we need to move faster than we're moving.
Larry Diamond
Mosbacher Senior Fellow in Global Democracy at FSI

The View from Taipei


Political leaders in Taiwan recognize the growing danger they face across the Strait. In Larry Diamond’s assessment, the end of Hong Kong's autonomy and the suppression of the “one country, two systems” model, the rising military incursions into Taiwan's air defense identification zone and coastal waters, and the whole rising pace of Chinese military intimidation has sobered Taiwan and visibly impacted Taiwanese public opinion.

Concerningly though, while the political elite recognize the real and present danger of the situation, polling of the general Taiwan public suggests that the vast majority of citizens still feel like an attack or an invasion by China is unlikely. Similar majorities suggest that they would be willing to fight in Taiwan’s defense, but volunteering for military service remains at a minimum.

To maximize safety, Taiwan needs to find ways to strengthen itself in its ability to defend, resist, and deter China, while still avoiding any appearance of moving toward permanent independence or any other action that could be deemed by Beijing as a provocation, says Diamond.

There are things that can completely change Beijing's calculus, but it takes a lot of work, and I just don't see us doing the work yet.
Oriana Skylar Mastro
FSI Center Fellow

What the United States Can Do


When it comes to the defense of Taiwan, the strategic crutch hobbling the United States is geography. Most of the U.S. Pacific forces are not in Asia. The majority are in Hawaii and California, as well as a few bases and airfields in Japan. To be able to effectively deter China, the U.S. needs far greater forward deployed military capability in order to be able to either stop or stall the movement of Chinese troops into Taiwan, says Mastro.

Taiwan needs greater onshore military deterrence capabilities as well. One such strategy is the “porcupine approach,” which increases the number of smaller mobile lethal weapons. By Larry Diamond’s assessment, increased citizen participation in military training is also crucial, with an emphasis on weapons training and urban defense tactics. The U.S. could support these aims by overhauling the current system for weapons procurement to speed up the production and delivery of weapons systems not just for Taiwan, but to the benefit of U.S. defense and other contingencies as well. Working with leadership to create strategic stockpiles of food, and energy should also be a priority, says Diamond.

The U.S. also needs to put much more effort into its diplomatic efforts on behalf of Taiwan. Many U.S. allies and partners are reluctant to ostracize China because of economic ties and concerns over sparking their own conflict with China in the future. A key ally in all of this is Japan. If Japan fights with the United States on behalf of Taiwan, it is a guaranteed win and enough to effectively deter China. But much more needs to be done much more quickly in order to secure those guarantees and present them in a convincing way to Beijing.

“The clock is ticking,” Larry Diamond says. “And the problem is we don’t know how fast it’s ticking. “Taiwan is moving in the right direction. But we need to move faster than we're moving.”

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A Taiwanese F-5 fighter jet is seen after taking off from Chihhang Air Base on August 06, 2022 in Taitung, Taiwan.
Commentary

China’s Huge Exercises Around Taiwan Were a Rehearsal, Not a Signal, Says Oriana Skylar Mastro

Nancy Pelosi’s visit was more pretext than provocation.
China’s Huge Exercises Around Taiwan Were a Rehearsal, Not a Signal, Says Oriana Skylar Mastro
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Larry Diamond and Oriana Skylar Mastro join Michael McFaul on the World Class podcast to discuss China’s ambitions against Taiwan, and how the U.S. and its allies can deter Beijing.

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Event flyer with portraits of speakers Jude Blanchette, Emily Feng, Qingguo Jia, Alice L. Miller, and moderator Jean Oi.

The 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party is scheduled to begin on October 16, 2022. Its outcomes will determine the country’s trajectory for years to come. Join APARC’s China Program for an expert panel covering the Congresses’ context, coverage, and policy implications for the future. This panel discussion will provide expert analyses of what was expected, what was unexpected, how the policies announced may play out over the coming years, and some lesser-covered policy changes that may herald implications for China and the world.

Speakers 

 

Jude Blanchette holds the Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Previously, he was engagement director at The Conference Board’s China Center for Economics and Business in Beijing, where he researched China’s political environment with a focus on the workings of the Communist Party of China and its impact on foreign companies and investors. Prior to working at The Conference Board, Blanchette was the assistant director of the 21st Century China Center at the University of California, San Diego. 

 

Emily Feng is NPR’s Beijing correspondent. Feng joined NPR in 2019. She roves around China, through its big cities and small villages, reporting on social trends as well as economic and political news coming out of Beijing. Feng contributes to NPR’s news magazines, newscasts, podcasts, and digital platforms. Emily is the recipient of the 2022 Shorenstein Journalism Award for excellence in coverage of the Asia-Pacific region. 

 

Qingguo Jia is professor of the School of International Studies of Peking University. Currently, he is a Payne Distinguished Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University. He received his Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1988. He is a member of the Standing Committee of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. He is vice president of the China American Studies Association,vice president of the China Association for International Studies, and vice president of the China Japanese Studies Association. He has published extensively on US-China relations, relations between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan and Chinese foreign policy.

 

Alice L. Miller is a historian and a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. From 2001 to 2018, she was editor and contributor to Hoover’s China Leadership Monitor

Jean C. Oi

Virtual event via Zoom

Jude Blanchette
Emily Feng
Qingguo Jia
Alice L. Miller
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Book cover for "Imperfect Partners"

Scot Marciel is widely considered the State Department’s top Southeast Asia hand, the result of decades of experience working in and on the region and the key role he has played in shaping and implementing U.S. policy. He was on the ground in the Philippines during the historic People Power revolt in the 1980s, became the first U.S. diplomat to serve in Hanoi in the early 1990s, was appointed the first U.S. ambassador to ASEAN in the 2000s, and spent the last 15 years twice serving as the State Department’s point person on Southeast Asia policy, and as U.S. ambassador to Indonesia and then to Myanmar during that country’s democratic experiment and its horrific ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya.

Imperfect Partners encapsulates Marciel’s experiences, providing the perspective of an American diplomat who has dealt with the dual challenges of working with foreign governments and also within the U.S. government. Noting that the United States “has a history of not quite knowing how to engage with Southeast Asia,” he highlights the ups and downs of critical U.S. relationships in the region. Marciel explores not only diplomatic successes, but challenges faced, missteps made, and opportunities missed in U.S. diplomacy with Southeast Asia. His on-the-ground witness account of the normalization of U.S.-Vietnam relations is essential reading, as is his passionate analysis of the gains and the failures of Myanmar’s decade-long opening.

While China’s rise has re-injected a long-absent strategic element into U.S. policy toward Southeast Asia, Marciel warns against making China the focus of that policy. He argues that the United States can best advance its own interests—and support the freedom of maneuver of Southeast Asia—through a strategy of consistent engagement based on a positive agenda and by focusing on the region’s dynamic younger generation.

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The United States And Southeast Asia

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We are pleased to share that Professor of Sociology Kiyoteru Tsutsui, the Henri H. and Tomoye Takahashi Professor and Senior Fellow in Japanese Studies at the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center (APARC), is the recipient of the 2022 Ishibashi Tanzan Award for his book Human Rights and the State: The Power of Ideas and the Realities of International Politics (Iwanami Shinsho, 2022).

Established in 1980 and presented by the Ishibashi Tanzan Memorial Foundation, the annual award recognizes excellence in the fields of politics, economics, international relations, society, and culture. It honors individuals who have contributed to advancing the legacy of former Japanese Prime Minister Ishibashi Tanzan and his ideas on liberalism, democracy, and international peace. Tsutsui’s book explores the paradox underlying the global expansion of human rights, examines Japan’s engagement with human rights ideas and instruments, and assesses their impacts on domestic politics around the world.

“I’m deeply honored to receive this prestigious award, especially in this historical moment in which commitment to the international liberal order is ever more critical,” says Tsutsui, who is also director of APARC’s Japan Program, APARC’s deputy director, a senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, and the co-director of the Center for Human Rights and International Justice. “Among all the Japanese Prime Ministers in history, no one demonstrated a more unwavering commitment to liberalism than Ishibashi Tanzan, and I’m especially pleased that my book on global human rights has received this recognition bearing his name. There’s also a personal connection for me, as my father is the author of the first social science book on Ishibashi Tanzan and I helped with his research as a middle school student, making copies of relevant newspapers.”


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In an APARC interview about the book, Tsutsui explains the tension inherent in the diffusion of global human rights, which is rooted in states’ embracing these universal rights although they are grounded in principles that constrain their sovereignty. “The end of the Cold War enabled the United Nations to engage in human rights activities free from Cold War constraints, and now those states that committed to human rights without thinking about the consequences have to face a world in which their violations can become a real liability for them,” he notes.

Tsutsui believes that Japan has an opportunity to become a global leader in human rights. “The more inwardly oriented United States is creating a vacuum in promotion and protection of liberal values, especially with China’s influence surging, and Japan should carry the torch taking the mantle of human rights, democracy, and rule of law,” he argues.

Tsutsui’s research interests lie in political and comparative sociology, social movements, globalization, human rights, and Japanese society. His current projects examine issues including changing conceptions of nationhood and minority rights in national constitutions and in practice, populism and the future of democracy, the global expansion of corporate social responsibility, and Japan’s public diplomacy and perceptions of Japan in the world.

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Protesters hold signs and chant slogans during a Black Lives Matter peaceful march in Tokyo.
Q&As

New Book by Stanford Sociologist Kiyoteru Tsutsui Probes the Decoupling of Policy and Practice in Global Human Rights

In his new book, Shorenstein APARC’s Japan Program Director Kiyoteru Tsutsui explores the paradox underlying the global expansion of human rights and Japan’s engagement with human rights ideas and instruments. Japan, he says, has an opportunity to become a leader in human rights in Asia and in the world.
New Book by Stanford Sociologist Kiyoteru Tsutsui Probes the Decoupling of Policy and Practice in Global Human Rights
Shinzo Abe speaking from a lectern
Commentary

Reflections on the Assassination of Former Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe

Abe was one of the most transformative political leaders in modern Japanese history, and his passing will change Japanese politics in a number of ways, most immediately shaking up internal politics within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. To honor Abe’s legacy, we all need to reassert our resolve to protect our democracy in Japan, the United States, and all over the world.
Reflections on the Assassination of Former Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe
Stanford campus archway and text about call for applications for APARC 2023-24 fellowships
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APARC Invites Fall 2023 Asia Studies Fellowship Applications

The Center offers a suite of fellowships for Asia researchers to begin fall quarter 2023. These include postdoctoral fellowships on contemporary Japan and the Asia-Pacific region, inaugural postdoctoral fellowships and visiting scholar positions with the newly launched Stanford Next Asia Policy Lab, and fellowships for experts on Southeast Asia.
APARC Invites Fall 2023 Asia Studies Fellowship Applications
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The Ishibashi Tanzan Memorial Foundation recognizes Tsutsui, the Henri H. and Tomoye Takahashi Professor and Senior Fellow in Japanese Studies at the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, for his book 'Human Rights and the State.'

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Visually banner card with the event title "Japan’s "Free and Open Indo-Pacific” Strategy: More Eloquent Japan and Domestic Political Institutions", and featuring a circle photo portrait of speaker Professor Harukata Takenaka

Since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has advocated “Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP)” Vision in 2016, various scholars have analyzed policy formulation process of FOIP. Most of them refer to the rise of China as an influential power in the Indo-Pacific region with its own initiative, namely, the Belt and Road Initiative as a major factor which prompted the Second Abe Administration to launch FOIP.

It is the contention of this presentation that the current configuration of the Japanese political institutions has made it possible for the Second Abe administration to launch and pursue such a comprehensive strategy while an international factor is important. It demonstrates that a series of political reforms since 1990s have strengthened the power of the prime minister as an institution to initiate key cabinet policies and coordinate policy formulation among different ministries. The strong institutional foundation of the Japanese prime ministerial power has made it possible for the Abe administration to effectively pursue such a broad vision, engaging various ministries and organizations.

The existing research on Japan's diplomacy often evaluates Japan as a passive state. It considers that in the past Japan only responded to foreign pressure while it did not proactively push forward its own policies. The presentation suggests that Japan has changed and become more eloquent as a result of changes in domestic political institutions.

Speaker

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Square photo portrait of Harukata Takenaka
Harukata Takenaka is a professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS) in Tokyo. He holds a PhD from Stanford University and a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Tokyo.

His key research areas are the role the prime minister in Japanese politics, changes in Japanese external policy, and democratization in Pre-war Japan.

Prof. Takenaka’s recent publications include: “Kyokoku Chugoku” to Taijisuru Indo-Taiheiyo Shokoku [Indo-Pacific Nations facing China aspiring to be a “Great Country”](edited) (Tokyo: Chikura Shobo, 2022), “Evolution of Japanese security policy and the House of Councilors,” Japanese Journal of Political Science, 22:2, (June 2021), 96-115, Korona Kiki no Seiji [Politics of Covid 19 Crisis](Tokyo: Chuo Koron Shinsha, 2020), “Expansion of the Japanese prime minister’s power in the Japanese parliamentary system: Transformation of Japanese politics and the institutional reforms,”Asian Survey,59:5:844-869 (September 2019); Futatsu no Seiken Kotai [Two Changes of Government] (edited) (Tokyo: Keiso Shobo, 2017); Failed Democratization in Prewar Japan (Stanford University Press 2014),

Harukata Takenaka Professor of Political Science National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, Japan
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Portraits of Sinderpal Singh and Arzan Tarapore with text about a webinar on the implications of the US-China competition for South Asia.

How is India posturing to manage strategic competition in the Indian Ocean? Thus far US-China security competition has been most acute in the western Pacific, but Chinese capability growth and strategic policies suggest that it also seeks a leading role in the northern Indian Ocean, in the not-too-distant future. India has traditionally considered itself the natural dominant power in the Indian Ocean region, but it has never faced the scale and types of competition that China will present. Does India have the wherewithal to maintain its leadership in the region? How will India work with the United States, bilaterally and through groupings such as the Quad, as they seek to maintain the status quo in the face of Chinese challenges? Is the Indian Ocean bound for militarized competition, or can India, the US, and China find a pathway to strategic coexistence?

Panelist

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Headshot photograph of Dr. Sinderpal Singh
Dr. Sinderpal Singh is Senior Fellow and Assistant Director, Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, and concurrently Coordinator of the South Asia Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. In the fall of 2022, he has been appointed as the McCain Fulbright Scholar in Residence at the United States Naval Academy. His research interests include the international relations of South Asia with a special focus on Indian foreign policy, the geopolitics of the Indian Ocean Region, and India-Southeast Asia relations. He is currently writing a book on India’s role in the Indian Ocean since 1992 and is the author of India in South Asia: Domestic Identity Politics and Foreign Policy from Nehru to the BJP (Routledge 2013). He received his Ph.D. from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, his MA from the Australian National University, and his BA from the National University of Singapore.

Moderator

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Square headshot photograph of Arzan Tarapore
Dr. Arzan Tarapore is the South Asia research scholar at the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University, where he leads the newly-restarted South Asia Initiative. His research focuses on military strategy, Indian defense policy, and contemporary Indo-Pacific security issues. Prior to his scholarly career, he served as an analyst in the Australian Defence Department. Arzan holds a Ph.D. in war studies from King’s College London.

This webinar is co-sponsored by the Center for South Asia

Arzan Tarapore
Arzan Tarapore

Virtual via Zoom Webinar

Sinderpal Singh Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, and South Asia Programme Senior Fellow, Assistant Director S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University
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